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Carroll School of Management

Daniel Akerson

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Motors Company

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives’ Club of Boston

June 13, 2013

TAKEAWAY: INnovation through patent generation

We have been the leading patent generator in the automotive sector now for several years. One of our lead competitors, when I first took the job, told me that GM had invented the catalytic converter. Nobody knows that. But how do we convert?

I mean, I went to a R&D meeting, where we awarded—we had one guy get 20 patents in one year. And of course, the impatient guy shows up and says, well, what have you done for me lately? Are any of those in any of our cars? Where do our customers, where do our investors, where do our owners benefit from raw research? 

We started GM Ventures, put $100 million in it, and we go out and we look for startups that are doing something—it may or may not be related to automotive. We get the opportunity to kick the tires, walk around it, look for an application, and we’re actually marrying it up with our own R&D now, and looking for automotive applications. And I will tell you, there’s some neat stuff going to come out in the next couple of years that I have seen, and I will tell you, will be as important—and I’ll give you one example. 

I don’t know if there are any metallurgists here, but you’ve never been able to weld aluminum. We just patented it. There are 25 pounds of aluminum rivets in the average car. We’re going to have to go to more aluminum cars to make the CAFE requirements, the miles requirements. So we’ve got to lightweight—we’ve got to go Euro, we’ve got to improve our combustion engine, we’ve got to get into advanced technologies such as hydrogen and natural gas and electric.

But light-weighting is important. There’s 25 pounds of rivets in the average car. By welding aluminum together, I will tell you, every one of our competitors wants to license this from us. It’s a nice place to be. Because if you’re in your body shop, in a big—I’m talking a 200-acre, 300-acre assembly plant, you have to run two assembly lines if you’ve got to do the rivets. Now we can run one. So it’s more efficient and less capital intensive. This is the kind of innovation we need.